Opinion / Chen Weihua

New York still in the past underground

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2015-03-07 09:33

New York still in the past underground

Passengers sit near a participant in the "No Pants Subway Ride" in the Q subway from Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York January 11, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

It might be annoying to hear too many people talking on their cellphones in Shanghai's subway, but I became a bit desperate one day last week while riding the subway in New York, as there was no signal throughout the 40-minute ride and I wanted to inform a friend that I would be late for our meeting.

Years ago, coming from Shanghai where there is always a cellular signal available on the underground rail system, I was already puzzled why this great American city had no cellphone signal in its otherwise very efficient subway system.

In an age which people want to be connected all the time, New Yorkers seem to still live in the last century once they venture below ground.

Don't get me wrong. I actually love the 101-year-old New York subway system, which, unlike my hometown Shanghai or Washington where I live now, operates 24/7. The designs at various stations give a strong sense of history. I love the bands and musicians playing at Times Square and Herald Square stations, my daily stops for a few years.

One of my favorite museums is the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, with subway cars from the last 100 years on display. I actually rode on an old subway car from the 1920s from Midtown to Uptown about three years ago.

But that doesn't mean the New York subway system should stay in the 1920s in terms of communication. It is certainly not rocket science for a nation that sent people to the moon, and it would cost only a fraction of the estimated $4 trillion the United States spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When years ago I asked an American friend why New Yorkers would tolerate such a reality, he said probably most New Yorkers wouldn't even know that you could get cellphone signals underground.

But people got to know that in Sept 2011, when six New York subway stations started to offer cellular services, although the signal was only available on the platforms, not deep in the tunnels.

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